MacCready, Paul

SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace
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b. 29 September 1925 New Haven, Connecticut, USA
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American designer of man-powered aeroplanes, one of which flew across the English Channel in 1979.
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As a boy, Paul MacCready was an enthusiastic builder of flying model aeroplanes; he became US National Junior Champion in 1941. He learned to fly and became a pilot with the US Navy in 1943. he developed an interest in gliding in 1945 and became National Soaring Champion in 1948 and 1949. After graduating from the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) as a meteorologist, he set up Meteorological Research Inc. In 1953 MacCready became the first American to win the World Gliding Championship. When hang-gliders became popular in the early 1970s MacCready studied their performance and compared them with soaring birds: he came to the conclusion that man-powered flight was a possibility. In an effort to generate an interest in man-powered flight, a cash prize had been offered in Britain by Henry Kremer, a wealthy industrialist and fitness enthusiast. A man-powered aircraft had to complete a one-mile (1.6km) figure-of-eight course in order to win. However, the figure-of-eight proved to be a major obstacle and the prize money was increased over the years to £50,000. In 1976 MacCready and his friend Dr Peter Lissaman set to work on their computer and came up with their optimum design for a man-powered aircraft. The Gossamer Condor had a wing span of 96 ft (27.4 m), about the same as a Douglas DC-9 airliner, yet it weighed just 70 lb (32 kg). It was a tail-first design with a pedaldriven pusher propeller just behind the pilot. Bryan Allen, a biologist, pilot and racing cyclist, joined the team to provide the muscle-power. After over two hundred flights they were ready to make an attempt on the prize, and on 23 August 1977 they succeeded where many had failed, in 7 minutes. Kremer then offered £100,000 for the first manpowered flight across the English Channel. Many thought this would be impossible, but MacCready and his team set about the task of designing a new machine based on their Condor, which they called the Gossamer Albatross. Bryan Allen also had a major task: getting fit for a flight which might take three hours of pedalling. The weather was more of a problem than in California, and after a long delay the Gossamer Albatross took off, on 12 June 1979. After pedalling for 2 hours 49 minutes, Bryan Allen landed in France: it was seventy years since Blériot's flight, although Blériot was much quicker.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
World Gliding Champion 1953.
Bibliography
1979, "The Channel crossing and the future", Man Powered Aircraft Symposium, London: Royal Aeronautical Society.
Further Reading
M.Grosser, 1981, Gossamer Odyssey, London (provides a brief biography and detailed accounts of the two aircraft).
M.F.Jerram, 1980, Incredible Flying Machines, London (a short survey of pedal planes).
Articles by Ron Moulton on the Gossamer Albatross appeared in Aerospace (Royal Aeronautical Society) London, August/September 1979, and the Aeromodeller, London, September 1979.
JDS

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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